New Twitter owner Elon Musk announced that the company would grant a blue “verified” checkmark to anyone signing up for the $8-a-month Twitter Blue subscription. Musk also vowed that anyone caught impersonating another person would be banned after several verified users changed their usernames to variations of Musk’s name.
The first such checkmarks appeared in recent days and it’s been somewhat messy so far.
A fake Lebron James account created the impression that the Lakers star was requesting a trade while someone impersonating ESPN reporter Adam Schefter falsely reported that an NFL coach had been fired. A bogus account claiming to be Nintendo’s brand account got a verification checkmark and then posted an image of Mario giving the finger.
A verified account claiming to be O.J. Simpson admitted that he was guilty of the murder of his wife while a verified account claiming to be former President George W. Bush tweeted “I miss killing Iraqis.”
All of these accounts were banned but not before going viral. Techcrunch wrote about why this has been such a problem for Twitter so far.
“All of those accounts are suspended now, but only after the tweets gained traction and caught the attention of Twitter moderators. With one-half of the staff it was previously operating with, it’s impossible for Twitter to catch all of this stuff after the fact if it doesn’t have any interest in vetting at the time of payment, which Musk apparently doesn’t,” the site said.
“The implications for Twitter as a reliable news source and the potential for abuse here is massive. Musk held off on his haphazard plan until the day after the U.S. elections, but with many races not yet called we can definitely expect to see confusion that’s orders of magnitude more consequential than a fake basketball trade.”
This week, Musk also introduced a gray “unofficial” checkmark that worked much the same way verification used to work, to ensure that public figures were who they said they were. However, the plan was abandoned within hours.
“Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months,” Musk tweeted after pulling the plug on that experiment. “We will keep what works & change what doesn’t.”
On Thursday, journalist Casey Newton reported that the leaders of Twitter’s privacy, security, and compliance teams had all left the company.
Engineers remaining at the company, per an employee quoted by Newton, must now “self-certify compliance with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requirements and other laws.”
“All of this is extremely dangerous for our users,” that employee says. “Given that the FTC can (and will!) fine Twitter BILLIONS of dollars pursuant to the FTC Consent Order, extremely detrimental to Twitter’s longevity as a platform. Our users deserve so much better than this.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, in his first meeting with reporters after the election, discussed the possibility of looking into Musk’s foreign ties in response to a reporter’s question.
“I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at, whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate,” Biden said in the press conference. “But that’s all I’ll say.”
Last month, there were reports that there could be a government review of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, due to his foreign ties. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) had called for a Committee on Foreign Investment review of the deal since Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Kingdom Holding Company own the second-largest stake in the company. Saudi Arabia owned a similarly large stake in Twitter when it was still a public company prior to Musk’s purchase.
Additional concerns were raised last month when Musk tweeted a “peace plan” to end the war in Ukraine that drew condemnation from various quarters, including Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This led to a separate controversy over a report from Eurasia Group that Musk had spoken personally to Russian president Vladimir Putin prior to tweeting the peace plan; Musk denied that he had.
“I have spoken to Putin only once and that was about 18 months ago,” Musk said on Twitter. “The subject matter was space.”
Around the same time, Musk made noises about no longer paying for Starlink satellite technology to Ukraine in the war, although he ultimately backed off and agreed to continue providing it.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.